Even with the U.S. Open coming up, I'm not averse to adopting new shots or refining familiar ones if I think they'll give me an edge at the toughest championship we play all year.
Whether you're a tour professional or a weekend golfer, it's important that your full swing and wedge play keep evolving, even as you head into the heart of the season. The key is to keep the techniques simple, so they're easy to integrate and add a little polish to your mid-season form.
All three tips I'll show you -- starting with the 5-wood blast from rough -- I've worked on since I won the AT&T at Pebble Beach in February. I've saved a lot of strokes with them, and so can you.
LEAN FORWARD, BREAK EARLY, HIT DOWN
Sometimes a trick for playing a shot is discovered, and it's so effective it spreads and becomes a trend on tour. That's the case with a long shot from medium to heavy rough. Instead of taking a risk with a 3-wood or merely advancing the ball with an iron, guys are blasting away with a 5-wood or hybrid. A combination of modern equipment, high swing speeds and new technique makes the ball come out low, hot and running, dead straight with little spin. To play it, first position the ball forward in a square stance, in line with the toe of your front foot. Open the clubface so it's aimed slightly wide of your target. Lean radically onto your front foot at address. You should be able to lift your rear foot off the ground without losing balance (1). Place your rear foot back down for stability, keeping 75 percent of your weight on your front foot__(2). On the takeaway, break your wrists early to encourage a steep, downward blow(3). Hit down sharply, taking as little grass behind the ball as possible(4)__. Drive the clubhead down through impact, shredding the grass beyond the ball. The added loft gets the ball out, and the steep angle sends it low and hot.
SET YOUR WRISTS EARLY, THEN HOLD THROUGH IMPACT
Distance control on the 50-yard wedge shot is a matter of good mechanics as well as feel. The secret is hinging your wrists early in the backswing. First, set up with a slightly open stance and the ball forward of center (1). When you begin the backswing, break your wrists immediately__ (2)__. That way you can begin the forward swing at the exact moment you sense you've taken the club back far enough. If you fail to hinge your wrists (N), you'll be forced to break them suddenly when you sense you've reached the top of your backswing. You'll make a sudden, jerky move down or continue swinging your arms back, which leads to deceleration through the ball. Hinge your wrists early, then feel you're maintaining that hinge through impact (3).
KEEP YOUR HEEL DOWN FOR BETTER ARM EXTENSION
One key to my better driving is keeping the heel of my front foot planted during my backswing. It's made me straighter, with no loss of distance. When the heel stays on the ground, I instinctively extend my arms farther from my head on the backswing (Y), increasing the width of my swing arc. When I allow the heel to come off the ground__(N)__, I make a nice hip and shoulder turn, but I'm not as disciplined about stretching my arms out at the top. I tend to get narrow, and the downswing becomes too steep. One of the neat benefits of the grounded heel -- and wider arc -- is that it makes the clubhead approach the ball on a much shallower angle. It's easier to keep the clubface square longer through impact. If accuracy is an issue for you, give this tip a try.
*PHIL MICKELSON, a Golf Digest Playing Editor, has written instruction articles exclusively for the magazine since 1992. *